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The Right Tool for the Job

Jessie: In New Hampshire, outnumbered by black flies.

Every year I make a list of things I want to accomplish. I’m an avid knitter and this year I have included completing a lace project on my list. For some reason, despite years of intermittently trying, I haven’t managed to conquer lace. I’ve made cabled, Fair Isle and Icelandic sweaters. I churn out socks. I’ve whipped up blankets, shawls and hats. I’ve even produced a toy pug.

But lace knitting has defeated me utterly. For years I’ve had a beautiful skein of midnight blue heathered merino wool in my stash just begging to be made into a light and drapy shawl. About once a year I pull it out and give it another go. I dig out needles, find a simple pattern, take a deep breath and tell myself that this time it will be different.

On the first row, I am hopeful. On the second I am less so. By the twelfth, fifteenth or on the luckiest of years, twentieth, I know I’ll be unraveling the whole mess and putting it away until the memory fades once more.

About a month ago I decided the time had come once more for me to face down the dragon. I pulled out a ball of lace weight yarn, this time a beautiful turquoise alpaca and silk blend. I plucked a couple of pairs of needles from my collection and found a four-row pattern on the knitting website, Ravelry.

As I sat down and cast on I could feel things getting off on the wrong foot. My usually adept hands felt clumsy and rather than the soothing rhythm of stitch after stitch sliding across the slick needles I just felt my shoulders creeping up around my ears.

I stopped and and looked down at what I was doing feeling the familiar sense of frustration  that I just was not going to be able to produce anything that would satisfy me, anything like what I had imagined. Suddenly, it occurred to me that the problem might be that I had chosen the wrong tools. The rounded tips and slick surface of my favorite needles might not be the best choice for beginning lace making. I sorted through a batch of infrequently used needles and found a wooden pair in the right size with pointy tips. Sure enough, that was the problem. It was so easy to solve if I had just looked at it a little differently.

The same thing happens in my writing. I’ll encounter a tangle in my plot, a dropped stitch in my story, a thread in the tale that has gone all wonky and I can’t resolve it by trying and trying to use the same tools the same old way. Sometimes, I have to move from the computer to a stack of index cards to jostle an idea into place. Other times I need to write in the afternoon instead of the morning. Frequently, I need to set the project aside long enough to have forgotten what a mess I had made.

But writing, like knitting draws me back again and again despite the disappointments and frustrations. In the end both crafts just need patience, determination, passion and a willingness to fail until you finally succeed.

Readers, are there things in your life that you are determined to learn? I’d love to hear about them!

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